Thursday, April 1, 2010

Forget It, Sweetheart

Is there a worse fate than being America's sweetheart?

Putting any woman on a pedestal either isolates her there or, more likely, sets her up to be knocked down from it. The first American sweetheart was the silent film actress Mary Pickford, known for her golden curls and sweet public demeanor; the public that adored her never realized she was an incredibly astute business woman who commanded $10,000 a week before the Jazz Age even got flapping. In charge of her career from the start, she learned the mechanics of filmmaking and co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin. Pickford was so idolized that on a trip to London a mob pulled her from her car and trampled her in an attempt to touch her fabled tresses. Her marriage to the dashing screen legend Douglas Fairbacks (her second) was touted as the perfect fairy tale romance but it soon fizzled for all the usual reasons -- alcoholism, adultry, the waning career of one of the partners -- and she spent the rest of her long life (she died in 1979) living in the shadow of the public persona she had sculpted and the ingenue she had been.

Debbie Reynolds met the same fate when Elizabeth Taylor decided to involve Eddie Fisher in one of her many brief dalliances. The fan magazines published endless photos of a pigtailed Reynolds -- a press agent's suggestion for sure -- with her two infant children (one of whom would grow up to be the devastatingly funny Carrie Fisher), and for the rest of her career Reynolds has worn the mark of the wronged woman, even though she and Taylor have supposedly long ago buried the hatchet. A more recent example is Jennifer Aniston, and though it's been at least five years since her husband Brad Pitt unceremoniously dumped her for the hard-to-compete-with Angelina Jolie, she's still portrayed as an unwitting victim of the capriciousness of high-profile love, a sort of glamorous cat lady who can do nothing more than vacation with her married friends and date wildly inappropriate co-stars.

Our latest wronged American Sweetheart is, of course, Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock. She's an easy celebrity to side with, likeable and down-to-earth, still stunning at an age when most actresses have to take on "mother" roles, placed in a situation that's all the more tragic because it leaves her unable to savor her recent triumph thanks to revelations from multiple skanky sources that her husband cheated on her. There are daily rumors that Bullock is "lawyering up," that she has canceled plans to adopt her husband's children (the spawn of a porn star), that she has moved out of their home. And, like the Tiger Woods debacle, there's the husband's inevitable rehab check-in for sexual compulsion. You have to ask yourself, though, when a person's partner is involved with not one but at least four other women of dubious virtue, how oblivious or self-involved were you to miss all the clues? Sure, she works a lot and has often been on location during their marriage. But didn't poor Sandy have a sense of Jesse James' past, and his fundamental make-up -- the porn star ex-wife, the obsession with tattoos, the Nazi memorabilia, his tendency to Heil Hitler salute the press? Isn't his name, after all, Jesse James?

It will be interesting to see this familiar scenario play out with someone like Bullock, who seems smart and demonstrative and, until now, in control of her image. In a world where it's easy to let celebrities fall from their pedestals and shatter in very public ways, she's one actress you'd like to see recover her balance and claim a victory.

No comments:

Post a Comment